Monday, April 30, 2012

Hooray, Hooray, The First of May...

Ophelia Among the Flowers
Odilon Redon, 1905-1908

Do you ever wake up in a good mood in the morning, and you have no idea why?  It has been happening to me lately, and it's almost frightening.  Well, not frightening, exactly, but definitely puzzling.  I have been struggling with a cold for the past two weeks, and I should be cranky as h*ll, but I'm not. At one time in my life I was a *morning* person, but lately - not so much.  I would be very happy if the work day started at around, oh, 11:30 or noon.

In an article in Psychology Today, "Bad moods are the stuff dreams are made of, at least according to two new studies. Dreams can fix your foul disposition each night--and if you're depressed, dreams may predict whether you'll beat the blues within a year. It's natural to wake up in the morning with a sunny outlook, relieved of the previous evening's worries. In fact, studies show that a solid night of sleep improves mood in healthy individuals. But sleep's effects on healthy and depressed people are as different as night and day. People who are clinically depressed actually feel worse after snoozing, since they have more abstract, disorienting dreams." ~~ Psychology Today

I have been experiencing some strange dreams lately. Last night I was figure skating on a wonderful outdoor pond. I could feel the ice beneath my skate blades as I completed perfectly executed toe loops and triple Salchows -- things I have never been able to do in my real life.  I guess my brain decided it was time to have some fun, after being confined to the indoors for a few days.

My mother was affected by the amount of sunlight during the day.  In the winter months she suffered from Seasonal Affective Disorder, but in the summer months she was a different person.  She came alive in April.  Perhaps I have inherited that tendency.  Living in a northern climate, we go through long winter months of short days and long dark nights.  I have a friend who also experiences Seasonal Affective Disorder, and her remedy is to spend the winter months in a sunny climate -- Hawaii, Australia, the Philippines...


Tomorrow is the 1st of May.  Time to put away the winter coats and the winter blues.  Summer will soon be here.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Jo By Any Other Name...

For the past several years -- well, for most of my adult life, actually -- I have been thinking about reverting back to my maiden name. I have never been comfortable with my married name. I was married at a very young age, and my husband died when I was 24, and for all of these years, I have not felt any connection to my name.  Our names identify us and they identify the connection we have to the other members of the family who have the same name.  I was born with my maiden name, and I was born into a family of people who shared my name.  My fondest memories are of the times I spent with the people who shared my maiden name.  My married name has always felt foreign to me.  Like a visitor in a distant land, I am homesick for my own family.  Good, bad or indifferent, our families are the people with whom we share DNA and history.

I liked who I was when I had my maiden name.   Oddly enough, I have never felt a completeness with my married name, even though I have carried that name for much longer than I did my maiden name.  However, my maiden name rolls off my tongue comfortably, whereas my married name feels like someone else's name, someone with whom I am not entirely familiar.  Who is that person?  Is it me?  No, I don't think so.  It doesn't feel like me. It's not a bad name, it's just not my name.  My brothers, fortunately, have been able to go through their lives with the same name.  I kept my married name for the sake of my daughter while she was growing up, in order to have the same name, but our names have been different for a long time now, and of course, her children's names are two generations removed.

I admire women who keep their maiden names when they get married.   They are not the chattel of the people they marry.  They are entities unto themselves, with a history before they married. I am not an extension of the person to whom I was briefly married.   I am a person in my own right, and I love my maiden name.  It's who I am.  I know it sounds silly, but I always felt rather special that my name was a "Mc" name.  It set me apart a little bit.  I miss the "Mc".  All of the things that have gone into making up this strange creature called *me* were there when I had my maiden name, and I want it back.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Home is Where the Heart Is...

Sun in an Empty Room
Edward Hopper, 1963

All of my life I have had recurring dreams about walking through empty rooms.  Usually in the dream I have just moved into a new place, and I am walking through it, deciding how I am going to arrange my furniture.  I have had to do this many times in my life, and as much as I dislike moving, I enjoy decorating a new space.  There is something comforting in making a home from an empty place.  It's not the structure that makes the home, but how you add your own personal touch that gives it warmth and brings it alive.

Light in Room
Russell, 2012

In the recent months, some family members sold their home, a home they had lived in for nine years. Before that, the house had been lived in by the same family since the 1940s. There were trees in the yard that were as old as the house, and the house was filled with memories of both the families who had lived there. There was even a ghost in the attic who made her presence known quite regularly.  It was not just a house - a structure - but a home. It was an old house, but solidly built, and had a lot of life in it yet. However, the purchasers of the house tore it down, and I suppose they will put something new in its place.  That seems to be what has been happening all over the Lower Mainland in the past couple of decades.  Out with the old...

Bridge on the Seine
Edward Hopper, 1909

When my family members told me what had happened, my first instinct was to do what I always do -- make lemons out of lemonade.  "Well, the house is gone, but you have a beautiful place now, so make that your home."  And to be honest, that is really how I feel.  "You can't go home again."  ~~ Thomas Wolfe.  But to see a place, where someone has lived, become a hole in the ground would elicit a very strong type of grief, under any circumstances.  I feel bad the family members had to leave their home quite so soon.  I wish somehow I could have prevented it from happening.  Some things are just so final, you know? But I think about people who lose everything in a fire or a tornado -- every memento, every photo album, everything -- and I go back to my original thought that four walls are just four walls.  Home is where you make it, where the heart is, where folks make tomorrow's memories, starting today.  Life moves forward in a linear fashion; but all the same, it's sad that the old house is gone, and I understand that people will grieve for it.  The memories will remain, though -- good and bad -- albeit bittersweet.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Grammar Nazi...

I have a confession to make.  My name is Jo and I am a Grammar Nazi. Yes, I am. I'm not very proud of it, but I am a Grammar Nazi. I come by it naturally, however. When I was growing up, whenever my brothers and I spoke incorrectly, we could hear my father's voice booming from somewhere in the house, "Speak the Queen's English!" I remember when my brother was in his teens, he thought he would be edgy and use the word "ain't". We were all sitting at the kitchen table at the time, and my father brought his hand down on the table, accidentally gave it a karate chop and split the table right in half. One half of the table went east and the other half went west. My brother headed south out the kitchen door and I think he's still running. My mother, who was standing beside the kitchen sink, turned around and very coolly said to my father, "Oh, Harold..." And then we all collapsed into a fit of laughter.

Lately I have been reading some of the CNN, New York Times and Huffington Post blogs regarding various topical issues and current events.  There are some extremely well-read, well-informed, intelligent people out there, and it's fun to read everyone's varying perspectives.  But almost as a constant thread through all of the posts are three of my pet-peeves.  One is "should of", "could of" or "would of".  Think about it.  That doesn't even make sense.  What does it even mean?  The correct way is "should have", "could have" or "would have".  It's easy to see how it happens, though.  In the spoken language, we speak in contractions, so "should have" becomes "should've", which becomes "should of".

My second pet peeve is "should have went", or "could have went" or "would have went".  How did that even become part of the English language?  When did that happen?  My poor father would be having an apoplectic fit if he were to hear "should have went".  The correct way is "should have gone".  I "went" to the park, but I "should have gone" to the store.  Please, no more "would have went".  Or worse, "would of went". It makes my brain hurt.

My third pet peeve ... *sigh* ... "Susan gave the book to Mary and I."  To me, that is like fingernails on a blackboard and unfortunately it has crossed over into the mainstream now.  I hear newscasters on national television using it, and I cringe every time I hear it.  It's basic grade six English.  "Mary and I gave Susan the book."  "Susan gave the book to Mary and me."  It's okay to say "me", folks.  It's actually correct. Me, together with Mary, forms the object of the preposition "to", so you need to use the pronoun "me" rather than the pronoun "I". You wouldn't say "Susan gave the book to I." 

I know the English language is fluid and it constantly changes. New words are introduced all the time, and that's the beauty of it.  But I believe the basic rules remain the same, and they do reflect on all of us.  My grandfather used to say that we can fit into any society if our shoes are polished and we speak properly.

My name is Jo and I'm a Grammar Nazi.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Thank you ... You're Welcome

I'm almost afraid to say "Thank you" to anyone anymore, because I know I am going to be greeted with the execrable "No problem" or the even worse "No problemo...".  I know the English language changes and evolves, and that is the beauty of it.  We can barely read and understand the Elizabethan English of Shakespeare's time, but when it is spoken, it comes alive; however, the English of today has evolved considerably since then.  Some evolution of the English language and even English grammar is acceptable.  The rules of grammar are easily bent and even broken, and perfectly wonderful writers break the rules all the time.

But "No problemo...?"

Last night I was watching the last part of Julian Fellowes' "Titanic".  It was wonderful.  It was bascially "Downton Abbey" at sea, with many of the same actors, and all the Edwardian finery and grandeur.  In one scene, a young woman in first class accommodation was looking after another woman's three-year old daughter while the mother went topside to see what was going on.  When the mother returned to the cabin to retrieve her daughter, she thanked the woman.

"No problem..."

Hey, wait a minute.  This is 1912, the height of the Edwardian era, the gilded age of manners and decorum.

"No problem...?"

I laughed.  "No problem" has become part of the modern lexicon, and we're stuck with it.  And it's really okay in informal situations.  But it's lovely to hear the exchange, "Thank you," and the reply "You're welcome".  The English language has so many subtleties, and "No problem" actually does sound as if it is a problem.  The person was accommodating, but -- sigh -- it really was a problem.  In my opinion, "You're welcome" sounds gracious and affable.  There is a subtle difference.  I could be wrong; I usually am...  but I rather like  "You're welcome".  It's cheerful.

Thank you for allowing me to vent.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Painter Of Light ... And Cotton Candy...

Vincent van Gogh was one of the most wonderful artists who ever lived, and yet during his lifetime not one of his paintings sold. He died thinking he was a failure, but, in March of 1990, van Gogh's masterpiece Portrait of Dr. Gachet sold for $144 million dollars. Van Gogh would have been speechless. On the other hand, the late Thomas Kinkade sold so many paintings during his lifetime, he had outlets in malls in order for people to purchase his work. I am not a fan of Thomas Kinkade's style. It has often been referred to as kitsch, or illustration rather than art.  There is no doubt Thomas Kinkade was a talented painter, but his art is too sentimental for my taste.  It's sort of like that big stick of cotton candy we buy at the fair.  The first bite is so sweet we are inclined to throw the rest into the waste paper basket.  But we keep eating it because, well, sugar tastes good.

And so, we keep gazing at the overly-idealized paintings of Thomas Kinkade, thinking how peaceful it would be to live in one of his cabins by a lake.  I live in the city, and in the summertime the noise starts to get to me.  Last night my upstairs neighbour was having her decks power washed at 7:30 at night.  Who power washes their decks on a Friday night?  It went on for three hours, and power washers are right up there with jack hammers for noise decibels.  I told my friend Russell I would love nothing better than to be living in a Thomas Kinkade cabin beside a river, just for a little while.  Oh, the tranquility.  And that is the problem with a Kinkade painting.  There is no edge, no yin and yang, no tangy and sweet.  They're all just sugar.  And, like the cotton candy, too much sugar can become nauseating very quickly.

I was surprised to come across this painting by Thomas Kinkade. It is a work in progress, and it is Graceland, Elvis Presley's home in Memphis.  Except for the blazing inferno inside the house, it doesn't look like a Thomas Kinkade painting at all, but more like an Edward Hopper.  The lines are clean, the light and shadow on the lawn is dramatic and not overly sentimental.  Kinkade has done other paintings of Graceland, and they look like Christmas card covers, but there is something about this painting that has an edge to it.  It evokes the feeling of the abandoned, haunted house that comes alive once a year and the ghosts inside are celebrating with a night of merry-making.  Perhaps Elvis and his Memphis Mafia are entertaining their friends.  Tomorrow the windows will go dark again, and the house will sleep.  I haven't seen the finished product of this work in progress, but I hope Kinkade stopped here.  To me, this painting shows that he actually was a talented painter.  He passed away too soon, and it might have been interesting to see if the *painter of light* had a dark side.  Those paintings might have been his masterpieces.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Violet Jessop ... Titanic Angel of Doom...?

iThe story of the RMS Titanic is one that has always haunted and fascinated me. The Titanic set sail on her maiden voyage 100 years ago on April 10, 1912. There were 2,435 passengers on board, and a crew of 892. Of those people, only 710 survived. One of those survivors was a woman named Violet Jessop.  She was born in Argentina, to Irish parents who had emigrated to the Argentine.  When Violet was a young child, she contracted tuberculosis and was not expected to live, but despite her grim prognosis, she survived the disease.  Later, she and her family returned to Great Britain, where she continued her schooling in a convent, until at the age of 22, she hired on to the RMS Olympic to work as a stewardess.  On September 20, 1911, the Olympic collided with HMS Hawke, resulting in the Olympic almost sinking.  The ship managed to make it back to Southampton without any casualties.

On April 10, 1912, Violet Jessop boarded the RMS Titanic, a sister ship of the Olympic, again to work as a stewardess. She was one of only 23 female crew members aboard the ship.  Four days later the Titanic collided with an iceberg, and Ms. Jessop was ordered into Lifeboat No. 16, and as the Titanic plummeted 2-1/2 miles down towards the ocean floor, Violet was one of the only 710 people who survived the disaster.  While she was in the lifeboat as it was being lowered, someone handed her a baby to look after.  The next morning on the Carpathia, a woman grabbed the baby and ran off with it. Years later, Violet Jessop received a telephone call from a woman who asked her if she saved a baby on the night the Titanic sank. "Yes," Jessop replied. The voice then said "Well, I was that baby," and hung up.

Violet served as a nurse for the British Red Cross during the World War One, and she was stationed on board His Majesty's Hospital Ship Britannic, another sister ship of the Titanic, when the ship struck a mine and sank in the Aegean Sea. Violet was in a lifeboat, but she jumped overboard to avoid being sucked into the Britannic's propellers. She nevertheless went underwater and struck her head on the ship's keel, and then resurfaced. She later said that her first priority in abandoning the Britannic was to rescue her toothbrush, which was the one thing she had missed when the Titanic sank.

Violet Jessop lived until 1971.  In the movie Titanic, James Cameron created a fictional character named Lucy, based on Violet Jessop. She is the stewardess setting things up in Rose DeWitt Bukater's stateroom. Later on, when the ship starts sinking, she is told to put on her lifebelt "to set a good example". The real Violet Jessop was also told to do this, but unlike her real-life counterpart, Lucy is not rescued.

Violet Jessop wrote her memoirs, entitled "Titanic Survivor".  Among the legion of books that emerged from the Titanic craze precipitated by James Cameron's 1997 film, "Titanic Survivor" towered above the rest due to its unique authenticity and wrenching firsthand account of that unforgettable tragedy. Violet Jessop spent her entire career--and fully half her life--at sea. She served as a stewardess for first-class passengers aboard the Titanic, and was a nurse on the ill-fated hospital ship Britannic when it struck a mine and sank in the Aegean Sea. She went on to write this riveting eyewitness account of both disasters, weaving into her story many fascinating tales of fellow stewards, wartime alarums, impossible passengers, philandering shipmates, exotic ports, and tragic deaths. Her powerful memoir grants the reader a unique vantage point that could only come from a survivor. ~~ Amazon Books. I'll be checking out the local Chapters Indigo store this week, to see if this book is available.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Spring In The City...

This is the Japanese plum tree just outside my window. Isn't it lovely? It has spurred me on to do some spring cleaning. The squeaky gate birds and the furniture birds are back, and so are the raccoons, raiding the crows' nests for eggs every morning. What a cacophony. The other day I watched a hawk feasting on a seagull. He sat perched in a Douglas fir tree for several hours, devouring his unfortunate victim until there was nothing left but feathers draping down the branches like some strange, exotic blossoms. It's hard to believe I live in the heart of the city.

Have a wonderful day, everyone.

Spring has sprung,
The grass has riz;
I wonder where my vacuum is...

Monday, April 2, 2012

Killer Fashions...!

How often do we judge people by how they look, their manner of dress, the styles they effect?  We do it all the time.  In the 1930s and 1940s there was a style of dress known as a Zoot Suit, or a Zoot Suiter. According to history, "The Zoot Suit first gained popularity in Harlem jazz culture in the late 1930s where they were initially called "drapes". The word "zoot", according to the Oxford English Dictionary, probably comes from a reduplication of the word ’suit’. It was probably first coined by Mexican American pachucos as part of their slang, "Cal√≥", evolving from the Mexican Spanish pronunciation of the English word "suit" with the "s" taking on the sound of a "z". In any case, the zoot suit became very popular among young Mexican Americans, especially among those in Los Angeles who styled themselves as "pachucos". Anti-Latino race riots in Los Angeles during World War II are known as the Zoot Suit Riots. Despite restrictions and discrimination, Zoot Suit culture prevailed." ~~ Wikipedia.  In other words, a style of fashion caused riots and deaths in as many cities as Beaumont, Chicago, San Diego, Detroit, Evansville, Philadelphia, and New York. The Zoot Suit was even investigated by the State Un-American Activities Committee under State Senator Jack Tenney. Such is the power of fashion.

In the 1960s, a particularly unattractive style of fashion arose from the "hippy" movement, and folks who wore the clothing were referred to as "dirty hippies". The hippy movement can be traced back to the Beatniks and Bohemians, and by 1967 the hippy movement had spread around the world. The hippy movement's mottos were "peace and love". Leaders of the hippy movement included Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary, Bob Dylan, Ken Keasy and the Merry Pranksters, Joan Baez, and so many more poets, musicians, philosophers and politicians. The hippy movement truly did change the course of history including music, literature, artistic experimentation, civil rights and women's rights. It is due to the hippy movement that folks have been made aware of environmental concerns.  Many of the hippies of the 1960s and 1970s are now the CEOs of major corporations.  Neo-hippies still exist today, and they are the children and grandchildren of the original hippies.  They still advocate many of the philosophies of the 1960s, they still wear the traditional hippy outfits, and they are still often referred to as "dirty hippies".

Flash forward to the fashion of this decade. Hoodies, low slung jeans, sneakers. It's the fashion dictated by the music scene and by Tommy Hilfiger, and many of the kids wear it, all over the world from Moscow to Beverly Hills.  It is the youth uniform of today.  And folks of the *older generation* are as suspicious of this uniform as they were of the Zoot Suits and the Dirty Hippies. "Look at those kids in their baggy jeans and hoodies…! Thugs!" It's just clothing, folks.  And so we have a young man, exactly one year older -- to the day -- than Phinnaeus, walking home after buying Skittles and iced tea, and talking on his cell phone to his girlfriend at 6:30 in the early evening.  It sounds like every other kid in every other country of the world, doesn't it?  By now everyone knows the story of what happened to that young man.  He was just a regular teenager, an A and B student at school, and a football player.  That sounds like Phinnaeus too.  And Phinnaeus has a coat with a hood on it, which I know he puts up when it's raining, just like that other young man did.  Marigold wears hoodies too.  I have even bought hoodies for her.  Everyone wears them.

So, what happened?  There are so many theories, and it was very badly handled and poorly investigated.  Will anyone ever know what really happened?  Probably not.  The kid wasn't the perfect kid, but how many teenagers are?  The teenage brain is a wonder to behold, and every teenager does stupid things at some time or another.  Please don't ask me about the time a group of us drove along Sproat Lake Road, seeing how far we could go without anyone actually driving the car from the driver's seat.  Only a teenage brain could conjure up an idea like that.  Sometimes I wonder how I survived my teenage years.  The teenage years equal temporary insanity and very poor judgment.

But to all intents and purposes the young man was not a thug.  He was well-liked at school, and well-liked by his neighbors and family.  And on the night in question he wasn't doing anything wrong; he wasn't caught carjacking, or robbing someone's home, he was walking back to where he was staying, to watch a basketball game.  He was walking along a sidewalk.  His only crime was that he was wearing the typical uniform of a teenager of this era.  And he was black.

I haven't been able to stop thinking about that unfortunate kid, and his grieving family.  My heart breaks for them.  I have read so many derogatory, racist comments on CNN and other websites, and I wonder how people can be so cruel.  He was just a 17 year-old kid.

The fellow responsible for this incident really does need to be properly tried in a court of law.  All the evidence must be gathered, and he must be indicted.  There is no other alternative, when a vigilante takes it upon himself to stalk a kid for two blocks, and then use undue force when the kid defends himself.  If someone did that to me, I'd be scared out of my wits.  Fight or flight.  It's instinct.  But the grownups have to behave like grownups.  When the grand jury convenes, I do hope this man will be brought to trial.  If he is not guilty of any crime, so be it.  If he is guilty, then justice will be done.

In the meantime, everyone go and hug your big lug of a 17 year-old kid.  They're still little boys inside, and they don't deserve to die walking home from the store with a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea, looking forward to watching a basketball game.